Jalen Richard burst onto the scene as an undrafted rookie out of Southern Mississippi with 1,393 all purpose yards and 3 TD’s. Perhaps a more important stat though was that he did not fumble even once in all of his 83 carries, 29 receptions, 17 kick returns and 34 punt returns.
Signs pointed to 2017 being bright for Richard. Then the season started and suddenly out of nowhere he couldn’t hold onto the ball, to the tune of a league leading 8 total fumbles.
Richard fumbled once as a runner, once as a receiver and an astounding 6 times as a punt returner. His inability to hold onto the ball seemed to cost him playing time despite being the better back between he and DeAndre Washington. Now the Raiders are asking themselves was his rookie year a fluke or is this who Jalen Richard is?
A quick look back at Jalen’s college career shows that 2017 could be either a fluke or a trend.
Richard fumbled 3 times his first 3 years in college. Then as a senior he fumbled the ball 7 times that season alone. Then he went without a fumble as a rookie, only to have 8 last season.
Though he had 6 fumbles on punt returns, only 2 were while actually carrying the ball which suggests that Richard doesn’t have a ball security issue so much as a catching punts issue.
Richard seemed to get into his own head in 2017 and tried to do too much with the little time he got on the field and it led to some of those fumbles. This is the most likely reason for his struggles.
The first of his fumbles came trying to field a punt in the second quarter of the season opener in the against the Tennessee Titans. The problem on this play appears to be that just before fielding the punt Richard drops his eyes to the approaching gunner. This causes the punt to be muffed and roll out of bounds.
It wasn’t until week 6 against division rival the Los Angeles Chargers Richard had his second fumble. Again the fumble was as a returner and again at the last second he appears to take his eyes off the ball to scan the field. He is able to fall on the ball and recover his own fumble but again his desire to make a big play appears to have caused this fumble.
Two weeks later against the Buffalo Bills Richard would fumble for the 3rd and 4th time of the 2017 season.
The first occurred when Bills kicker Steven Hauschka squib kicked the opening kick away from Cordarelle Patterson and Richard attempted to pick it up on the run Not only is that a tough ball to field, but again Richard peaked at the oncoming defenders and was unable to handle it. He was able to recover it.
The second was in the 3rd quarter on a punt return, and this time it was not a muffed. Richard cleanly fielded the punt and took off upfield but unfortunately he lost his footing causing him to slam his right forearm that was carrying the ball into the ground causing his arm to come away from his body. He popped immediately back up but with his arm now away from his body was not able to secure the ball before having it ripped out by the defender.
Week 13 against the New York Giants saw Richard’s fumbles continue to come in bunches. That game was his three fumble performance. The first occurred on the first punt of the game, which Richard returned for 19 yards only to be stripped.
His other two fumbles in the game were both muffs. The first he took his eyes off the ball and the second he misplayed, causing him to have to dive for it. It’s clear by this point that Jalen was in his head and trying make the most of his opportunities and it cost him and the team.
His final two fumbles of the season occurred on a cold day in Philadelphia in a close game. The first was on run in which he picked up 8 yards before meeting a defender and as he fought for more yards, had a second defender rip the ball out.
The final fumble of the year for Richard happened with 3 seconds left in the game and the Raiders trying to miracle lateral their way to a win. He made a bad pitch to QB Derek Carr and the Eagles returned it for a touchdown. Hard to fault him for this one as the game was over and those plays usually end that way.
All in all Richards problems stem from trying to do too much to help the team. Whether it be taking his eyes off a punt or not protecting the ball while fighting for extra yards. As his playing time dwindled despite being the 2nd best back on the roster he tried to overcompensate. Then it seemed to become a mental issue and he simply got a case of the yips.
Jalen “Rocket” Richard is still the most electrifying back on the roster not named Marshawn Lynch. But if he can’t can’t return punts, that lowers his value. He must clean up his issues fielding punts or the Raiders could replace him with someone else. Hopefull he will, because he can be a lethal weapon in a Gruden offense.